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“For Obama to win Georgia, several things have to happen,” Mr. Black said. “He has to have a huge turnout of African-Americans. In July, just 28.1 percent of registered voters were African-Americans. That is not up a lot from 2004, when they made up 27.4 percent. It could be up a little, but they are talking about registering 100,000 voters a month” - a difficult challenge at best, he said.

“And then he needs McCain to run a lot weaker among white voters than Bush did. Bush won 76 percent of the white vote in 2004, Kerry got 23 percent. McCain’s not at Bush level, I don’t think. Bob Barr, a former congressman from there, has the potential to hurt McCain in Georgia among whites, but I think there is a real limit to Barr’s support. He doesn’t have much money and will not be part of the debate,” Mr. Black said.

“I still think McCain is the favorite to win Georgia. I don’t think there is any question that he is going to get a majority of the white votes.”

Thomas F. Schaller, a University of Maryland political science professor who has published a study of Southern voting trends, concluded earlier this month in a New York Times column that “Mr. Obama can write off Georgia and North Carolina” because even a larger black vote would not be enough to offset Mr. McCain’s advantage among white voters.

Virginia is a different case entirely, and Mr. Obama could carry it, analysts say. A SurveyUSA poll late last month showed the race there in a statistical tie, with Mr. Obama holding a two-point edge, 49 percent to 47 percent in recent polls.

The state, because of an influx of non-Southern voters in the past decade or more, has been trending Democratic, though it has remained in the Republican column in presidential races. Mr. Bush carried the state by more than 262,000 votes in the last election.

Mr. Obama, boasting $95 million in cash on hand, has been saturating the state, especially Democratic-leaning Northern Virginia, with TV ads. The presumptive Democratic nominee does best among voters between the ages of 35 and 49, where he holds a 12-point lead, but Mr. McCain has an 18-point lead among voters older than 65 and has a 13-point lead among white voters.

“I think Virginia is very competitive right now and Obama has a shot at it,” Mr. Black said.

Florida remains the fourth battleground in the South where the Obama campaign is investing significant resources. Polls show the race there in a statistical tie, with Mr. McCain holding a 2.2 percent edge last week - though analysts say Mr. McCain retains the advantage there because of the state’s large military and older population and its Republican majority.

“The conventional wisdom is that Florida will not be as strong a state for Obama as it was for Kerry or for Gore. So Obama’s strategy has been to basically nail down Virginia, make North Carolina competitive where you have a high black voting-age population, and really push hard in Georgia,” Mr. Towery said.

Both campaigns acknowledge the challenges they face in the general election and say they are taking nothing for granted in the South.

“Whether you live in the Northeast or in Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia or Florida, the majority of this country is not pleased with how Washington works, and they want change. We are serious about playing in the South; we mean business,” said Obama spokesman Nick Shapiro.

“Barack Obama has talked a lot about competing down there, but we are under no illusions and taking nothing for granted. We’re building organizations in all the [Southern] states, and we’ll be campaigning throughout them in places like Virginia and Florida. We’re going to fight for every vote,” said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.